- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, manager Frank Robinson and the team’s highest paid player, Alfonso Soriano, met yesterday morning for several hours away from the Nationals’ Space Coast Stadium offices, and after that meeting this is what was accomplished.

Each knows where the others are coming from.

“We had a great discussion this morning,” Bowden said. “I think all of us know where each of us are coming from, which is important.”

Said Robinson: “We understand where he is coming from. He understands where we are coming from, and we’ll go from there.”

Added Bowden: “I think it is important for each party to understand where each party is coming from. I think we had an opportunity to look each other in the eye and go through the issues of the club, the issues where Alfonso is coming from … we have a lot of respect for Alfonso, as a player and as a person, and where he is coming from. He understands [our] situation and where we are coming from. That’s all you can do from there.”

Yes, of course. That’s all you can do, right? It’s not like you can tell a player you are paying $10million that he will play the position you want him to. I mean, let’s face it, this is where the Nationals are coming from: Jose Vidro is healthy and back to All-Star form at second base, so the organization wants Soriano to put his second base glove in storage, play left field and help the team with his bat far more than he hurts it with his defense.

By the way, it shouldn’t have taken several hours to figure out where everyone is coming from.

Soriano is from the Dominican Republic. Bowden is from Weston, Mass., and Robinson is from Beaumont, Texas. Glad I could clear that up, because that is more information than the trio of performers offered during the dog and pony show yesterday.

After Soriano was traded in December from Texas to Washington for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and pitching prospect Armando Galarraga, he made it emphatically clear he didn’t want to play left field for his new team. And there was nothing that came out of yesterday’s press conference to indicate that he has changed his position.

When asked if he would respect Robinson if he told Soriano where to play, Soriano answered, “Yes, because he is the manager. I have a lot of respect for Frank Robinson.”

But when the follow-up question was asked if Soriano would play left if Robinson told him to, Soriano replied, “Who knows?”

So the team is just hoping the problem goes away by circumstances that unfold during the next couple of weeks.

“We don’t start playing games until March,” Robinson said. “The position [Soriano] will be going out there now and working at is second base, because he is going to be playing second base for the World Baseball Classic, so he will be working around second base.

“It is not a competition for second base. We will make the decision. Only one guy can play second base. It needs to be made before we leave spring training. It does not need to be made today. He has to get his work in around second base.”

That’s not necessarily a bad way to approach it. Stuff happens during spring training, and despite Vidro’s insistence yesterday that he is ready and in the best shape of his career, his knee problems make it 50-50 he will be ready to play come Opening Day. But he likely will be ready to play at some time during the season, and then the Nationals will have to do more with Soriano than understanding where he is coming from — unless by then they know where he has gone to.

Trading Soriano remains a possibility, though the Nationals position certainly will be devalued by the fact that the 29 other general managers know the team is operating out of desperation. Most teams are not ready to take on a $10million salary at the start of the season, either.

Maybe that is why everybody was buddy-buddy yesterday — to not appear boxed in. And maybe that’s why the organization is trying to put a muzzle on anyone talking about the second base controversy. Before the press conference began, the following announcement was made: “Today is the day we are going to talk about this. Neither the club nor Alfonso is going to be commenting on this as we go forward, so please get all of your questions in right here and now.”

There were five television crews and a roomful of reporters yesterday for a last place team with no owner. They weren’t there to see if Brandon Watson is going to be the center fielder this year. This is the only legitimate baseball story this team has going for it, and for an organization that will need all the attention it could get, it may not be wise to try to cut off debate and discussion about anything to do with Nationals baseball.

Along those lines, if no more questions are allowed, then I have a suggestion — tell Soriano he can play second base every time the Nationals are on television. Since he has played in places where baseball operates under relatively normal business conditions, he certainly would have to figure that would be good for 130 or 140 games at least — not the measly 44 games that will be broadcast for non-DirecTV subscribers this season.

Bowden was unapologetic about creating this problem so burdensome that no one would talk about anymore after yesterday.

“The one thing we do know is that we have a much better offense with Alfonso Soriano, and I know we have a much better team because we have Alfonso Soriano,” he said. “I will make that trade every day of my career. This is a very special baseball player, with a very special combination of speed and power. A player that scores 100 runs, drives in 100 runs, hits 30-plus homers, steals 30-plus bases. Washington is very fortunate to have Alfonso Soriano.”

Just don’t ask where he is playing.

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